$1.1 million state grant aims to better connect Northwest Philly

 A shot of Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

A shot of Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

Mt. Airy USA, a local community development corporation dedicated to neighborhood revitalization projects, is in the early stages of what it is calling the Connecting & Building Philadelphia’s Safest Corridors project, which will involve the implementation of a much-needed regional wayfinding system of signs, as well as the installation of 10 shelters along some of the area’s busiest bus routes.

Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, can’t wait.

“When this project is finished it will be an asset for the entire region,” he says. 

Several years of meetings culminated in identifying the creation of the wayfinding system as a planning priority, but locating available funding had always proven to be too great an obstacle.

In 2013, the state approved the creation of a transportation fund, dubbed the Multimodal Transportation Fund, which state Rep. Cherelle Parker proposed as a potential source of financing for the project.

The Multimodal Transportation Fund

Parker, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee Chair for Public Transportation of the House Transportation Committee, was in a uniquely strategic position to guide the passage of the fund.

“From the very beginning, Representative Parker had a role to play in promoting access to public transportation in her district,” said Toni Marchowsky, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Delegation.

“My staff and I are excited about this opportunity to encourage community and economic development throughout Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill,” said Parker. “[It] not only encourages local residents and visitors to support the businesses in our immediate area, but it also opens the door to new business ventures.”

As of Oct. 28, PennDOT has approved 86 projects in 35 counties totaling $84 million under the fund. 

In addition to the 86 multimodal projects, PennDOT is investing $7.2 million in transit funding for five transit projects that applied for multimodal funding. Selections were based on such criteria as safety benefits, regional economic conditions, the technical and financial feasibility, job creation, energy efficiency and operational sustainability.

What’s next

Mt. Airy USA is still in the very early stages of planning for the project. However, Gupta anticipates that in the coming weeks the state will provide additional guidance.

The Direction Philadelphia program, established in 1988 with initial funding from the William Penn Foundation, previously established criteria for a neighborhood wayfinding system for Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Chestnut Hill in 2001.

Nevertheless, Mt. Airy USA plans to hire a design consultant for guidance in the placement, location, and manufacture of the 80 to 100 signs the grant will provide.

The wayfinding system will cover all of Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, including approaches to the neighborhoods from Center City and Montgomery County. Major thoroughfares, such as Germantown and Wadsworth Avenues, and Regional Rail stations will likely be marked, as well as historic sites and institutions, such as Cliveden and the Johnson House.

“It is at this point still an open question exactly how we should distinguish between specific locations to call out and broader neighborhood nodes and assets,” says Gupta.

The locations for the 10 new bus shelters are also as yet to be determined, but will be guided in large part by ridership data provided by SEPTA.

The group also intends to seek out the guidance of area residents.

“We want to promote access to and use of public transportation,” said Gupta. “Not only do Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill each have two regional rail stations, but several of the most heavily traveled bus routes also originate or end here.”

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